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What Does Illness of Stanley Ho Mean to Macau?

Written by:
Guest
Published on:
Aug/10/2009

HONG KONG, Aug 6 (Reuters) - Veteran 87-year-old Macau gaming tycoon Stanley Ho is in intensive care after undergoing brain surgery to remove a blood clot, raising questions over the succession of his vast gaming empire.

Ho is one of the world's richest men and has been considered Macau's gambling kingpin for over four decades. Following are some answers to questions about what Ho's condition means for his companies and Asia's gambling capital.

For more on Stanley Ho's health scare click [ID:nSP485954].

HOW WILL HO'S POOR HEALTH AFFECT HIS COMPANIES?

Investors fear a leadership vacuum at SJM Holdings (0880.HK), where Stanley Ho is chairman. The announcement that Ho was hospitalised jolted investors who fear this will cloud the firm's strategy at a difficult time for the gambling industry.

Shares of SJM, which fell 4.6 percent on Monday, will trade on any development in Ho's condition, said Steven Leung, sales director with UOB Kay Hian.

Stanley Ho also has a reputation as a dealmaker with close ties with Beijing. His departure would deprive the firm of its key asset. "A lot of gaming investments are based on relationships and Stanley Ho does have a lot of those relationships," said another gaming analyst who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.

HOW MIGHT HO'S EMPIRE BE CARVED UP?

Ho heads an extended clan of over a dozen children. While parts of his empire would likely be divided among family factions under each of his four wives, the spotlight has fallen on Pansy Ho and Lawrence Ho, the two children of his second wife. An inequitable split could spark tensions and legal challenges, experts say.

Ho's ambitious fourth wife, Angela Leong, has the youngest children but has reportedly sought to wrest greater control of Ho's businesses in recent years. "If he dies very suddenly, there will will definitely be conflict among the wives," said Larry So, a political analyst.

WHO MIGHT BE THE MAIN HEIR?

The traditional Chinese preference for male heirs could favour Lawrence. Though only 32, he heads two firms, including Melco Crown Entertainment (MPEL.O), which he founded with Australian tycoon James Packer, and built Macau's City of Dreams.

Ho has also been grooming Pansy, who runs his other firm Shun Tak Holdings (0242.HK) and Macau's MGM Grand casino with U.S. firm MGM (MGM.N). Some analysts see her as a natural successor.

Forbes put Ho's wealth at $1 billion this February, down sharply from his $8 billion pile before the financial crisis worsened.

WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS FOR MACAU'S GAMING SECTOR?

Ho is a unifying figure among current casino operators. Without him, there could be an intensification of competition. The recent push to cap the commissions of the murky VIP gaming sector now controlled by junket operators could also suffer.

"In the short term, there may be instability and less cooperation among the casinos," said Eilo Yu, a political scientist at the University of Macau.

Yu added turf conflicts could break out among organised criminal gangs or triads that have been long associated with Macau's gaming halls and VIP rooms. "He's a figurehead and people respect him so you don't see so much trouble in the casinos right now," said Yu. ($1=7.750 Hong Kong Dollar) (Additional reporting by Parvathy Ullatil, Editing by Don Durfee and Lincoln Feast)

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